Alana Cook weighs 144 pounds. But when the Port Moody resident steps into the combat octagon, she carries the weight of a nation.
Cook recently won her debut as a professional mixed martial arts fighter. She’s also Métis — on her mother’s side — and works at organizing sports opportunities for Indigenous youth as the Fraser Regional coordinator at I-SPARC, an initiative of three founding First Nations organizations to promote sport and physical activity in their communities.
So when Cook defeated Max Turcotte-Novosedlik by technical knockout 4:23 into the first round of their bout in Calgary Jan. 15, the win was more than just a notch in her fight record.
It was also affirmation of her heritage, her belief in her role as a “female warrior,” and the example she can set for young Indigenous people.
“It’s important to say this is where I come from,” Cook said. “I don’t want to be taken as a ‘token Indian.’”
Growing up in Maple Ridge, Cook played team sports like soccer and volleyball, but when she aged out of the youth leagues, she decided to explore a long-held fascination with martial arts.
Cook said she loved reading comic books and training and sparring in a gym tapped into her inner female superhero.
“I mostly trained for fun,” she said.
But when a job opportunity took Cook to Thailand for a year where Muay Thai kickboxing events are a weekly occurrence in neighbourhoods across the country, she decided for the first time to test herself against an opponent. The ring was set up in a parking lot in Ko Pha Ngan – an island in the southeastern part of the country that’s known for its monthly celebrations of the full moon.
“It was super chaotic,” said Cook, recalling the loud music and boisterous crowd of locals, most of them smoking cigarettes.
The butterflies and adrenaline rush were like nothing she’d ever experienced, Cook said.
She was hooked.
Cook won her first regulation amateur MMA match in 2018 at an All Martial Arts championship card in Vancouver but she then had to take some time off to recover from an injury. The COVID-19 pandemic extended her hiatus.
Cook’s fight in Calgary was part of an all-female card at the Grey Eagle Events Centre promoted by the Pallas Athena Women’s Fighting Championship. She said it was empowering to compete and commune with other women.
“Everyone had hands like me, with short nails and bruised knuckles. I felt among my people.”
Cook, who’s based out of Ascension Martial Arts in Port Coquitlam and Universal MMA in North Vancouver, said much of her preparation for the fight was done out in nature — running on the streets and trails near her Heritage Mountain home, and icy swims in Buntzen Lake.
It’s a regimen she’s intimately familiar with, having earned her Master’s degree in Indigenous land-based education at the University of Saskatchewan after presenting her thesis on using natural environs to promote health and fitness amongst First Nations.
Cook said her success is already having in impact among the young people she works with.
After her win in Calgary, her email Inbox received a steady stream of congratulatory messages from participants in the I-SPARC programs she organizes. She hopes the glow stays with them, teaches them to fight for their dreams as well.
“It means a lot to me to give them someone to look up to,” Cook said.
“I want to change the narrative.”